These past few months, Mike Ramsey has been introducing us to Local Search Marketing. And, rookie, master marketer or somewhere in the middle, you’ve probably concluded that this is one incredibly complicated — and frustrating — world. It’s not just you. Earlier this year, Mike compiled a list of 40 most-often-asked questions he gets about local search in general, and how he handles specific situations. While all the questions apply, of course, here are the 10 questions he hears most frequently from lawyers.
Q. Where do I start?
A. The best place to start is simply understanding what you have online about your business. There is a great free tool called GetListed that will help you easily find local listings and see what information is listed about your firm on sites such as Google, Yelp, Superpages or Avvo. It will also identify sites where you do not have business information listed and can walk you through adding free listings. If you do one thing, make it this — and make sure your business information is accurate and consistent. You would be surprised how many listings have bad phone numbers, or don’t show the firm’s proper website address.
Q. How much does SEO cost?
A. It costs the time you buy or the time you put in. There is no fixed cost amount that works as a rule of thumb. You could budget a few hours of personal time or buy thousands of dollars worth of content, outreach and design and both routes would be good options. The best thing you could do is decide how much you want to spend per hour on SEO-related work. Are you comfortable paying someone X amount per hour or spending your own time worth X amount doing it yourself? I do think that you should set an hour or dollar budget and build a plan around that. The way I would work with $500 a month is very different than the way I would work with $20,000 a month.
I also get asked how much money and time is necessary. My response is, “For what?” Your goals dictate the time. If you want to increase traffic, rankings and phone calls substantially, then it is going to take a lot of work. If you want to simply be found when someone looks for your practice, then it will take much less effort.
Q. Why isn’t local search marketing a “one-time thing”?
A. Because local search marketing is advertising. Would you build a business, advertise the business once, and then never promote it again? No. The same goes for local SEO. While some things don’t need repeated endlessly, there are some things that do. For example, creating new, original content to add to your site, outreach in your community, sharing your knowledge through articles, and acquiring reviews and links are things you should never stop if you want to stay relevant in your market.
Q. Is it better to be ranked in local map results or organic results?
A. It completely depends. Some studies show that local map results can get more clicks overall, but Google doesn’t always show local map results at the top of the search results page. Sometimes there are organic results above the maps and they can get more clicks. Personally, I never recommend optimizing one without the other. Do the work on your website, off your website, on local listings and with reviews and you can do well both organically and in the map pack. This way, when the layout of the search results changes, you will be covered no matter what.
Q. Why am I not number one on all my keywords?
A. Because Google hates you. Just kidding. But I have never seen a company reach number one on all keywords. It’s not reasonable, and it really shouldn’t be your overall goal. There will be keywords that rank well, keywords that don’t and a lot in between. The key is to constantly look for progress and trending, and get away from caring about individual keywords. Within a few more years, no one will be seeing the same search results at all, because of the trend toward localization and personalization. There will be no such thing as ranking in the first position. There will be averages and there will be traffic.
Q. What is the timeline to start seeing results?
A. Usually this question means, “When will I be ranking on the first page?” There’s no good answer to that question and no guaranteed way to answer it. Think of it like fishing. Do the work, get your bait in the water and then let the fish come. Eventually, they bite — if you have done all you can do to be in the right spot, with the right bait and the right technique. The rest is up to the fish.
Q. What are your secret tricks?
A. There are no “tricks” that result in long-term sustainable value. If you are constantly looking for tricks instead of building a great website and great content that you promote, along with doing a great job for your clients and getting feedback, then you are simply chasing the search engine algorithm instead of staying ahead of it.
Q: How long is it going to take to remove my Google Panda or Penguin penalty?
A. This question has come up a lot over the past couple of years. And, as with all things search-engine determined, the answer is, “It depends.” Panda and Penguin are names of search engine filters that periodically analyze a website’s content quality and links tactics. Based on what the filters catch when a new update of Panda or Penguin is launched (say, low-quality links or questionable content), Google may drop your website’s position in search engine results. The first step is to correct the links and content that triggered the penalty. Then as soon as the next Panda or Penguin update hits, the filter will be removed from your website and you can regain your rankings position.
However, if you received a manual link penalty from Google, most likely you will have at least 60 days before the penalty can be removed. Unfortunately, I rarely hear of lawyers getting out of a penalty that fast. I hate to say this, but you don’t matter to Google. At all. Plan on them being extremely hard on you. It could take a year-plus of removing links before they release the penalty. Or they might not release it at all, and you will have to start over on a new site.
My general rule of thumb is if a website has been penalized for over four months, then I would start working on a second site.
Q. What should I measure or monitor?
A. You can’t improve on things that you don’t measure. At a minimum I would track the following:
- Number of online reviews and average star rating
- Website traffic (how many visitors come to your website each day, week or month)
- Phone calls generated online and website forms that are filled in online
If you want to go a step further, track your keyword rankings and the number of links pointing to your website, too.
Q. What should I do about negative reviews?
A. Don’t panic. As my friend Matt McGee says, “We don’t live in a five-star world.” People don’t expect 100 percent positive reviews, but they do expect a majority to be positive and for negative reviews to be dealt with. On some review portals like Google you can respond as the business owner to negative reviews. My advice is to show empathy, clarify any misconceptions, offer help if possible and be honest.
If potential clients see that you handle bad situations well, they will gain confidence in your abilities. Ensure that reviews become part of your daily process, though, and you will find that negative reviews become few and far between.
Please feel free to ask your questions in the comment section below, and I will do my best to answer. Local search marketing can be complicated, but there are many who are willing to help you navigate the theories and tactics that are quickly becoming valuable ways for lawyers to gain new clients.